Subsequent economic growth has enriched an ever-expanding middle class, and the country’s retail industry has quickly adapted to the growing appetite for consumerism. Some of these changes in the Chinese spend their money, taking advantage of the latest technology, will soon be coming to a city near you.
Earlier this year, The Economist warned retailers worldwide to take a cue from China. So what will China’s “retail revolution” bring to the rest of the world? It could be summed up in five concepts.
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Connecting with lifestyle
The increase in disposable income has led to rapid growth in those who eat out, seek entertainment, and travel. Traditional e-commerce companies sold general merchandise but did not offer a new lifestyle. Digital ” super platforms” have therefore emerged. For example, Meituan, which has more than 600 million users and is estimated to be worth US$100 billion, provides almost every type of lifestyle service and entertainment. It offers restaurant reviews, delivery services, travel bookings, cinema tickets, bike rentals, and much more. Consumers in other parts of the world can also expect ubiquitous “super apps” to become part of their daily lives, such as delivery and shipping service Grab in Southeast Asia, which has managed to make inroads into financial services.
Merging online and offline
The integration of online and offline consumption is already familiar to many shoppers. In China, however, digital platforms such as Taobao, JD.com, and Meituan offer much more than, for example, Amazon. They sell everything from rice and phones to villas and space flights. The most challenging items for these firms have been goods for quick online sales, such as seafood and fresh produce. They have high logistics costs associated with them on the one hand, low selling prices on the other, and are also perishable. However, some are already using their warehouses to ensure fresh food delivery in less than an hour, a concept rapidly gaining popularity. Online grocery shopping has become routine in many countries, but you should expect every kind of shopping to be faster and even more convenient in the future.
The social aspect
While the middle class in China’s largest cities enjoy the convenience of Meituan and others, there are still one billion Chinese in small towns and rural areas which remain poorer and more price-sensitive. A social media platform called PinDuoDuo has targeted this population, leveraging the social network WeChat. The idea was to make online shopping a more social and interactive experience. PinDuoDuo is very popular because it is a source of entertainment. Moreover, it is also popular with affluent shoppers. Thus, consumers outside of China can expect digital shopping to be more fun, social and accessible.
Advertising using celebrities is a proven marketing tool for big brands. The concept has been taken even further in China, with celebrities including business executives and government officials taking part in live broadcasts to sell merchandise. For example, Dong Mingzhu, chairwoman and president of Gree Electric, the world’s largest home air-conditioning manufacturer, sold US$9.3 billion worth of products through 13 live broadcasts in 2020. The social media influencers that consumers identify with and trust are likely to play an increasing role in the way consumers spend their money.
A video in which an ordinary person does ordinary everyday things but makes no recommendations on product purchases. For example, Li Ziqi, also known as the ‘Queen of Quarantine,’ has become an internet sensation in China with 2.4 billion views of her YouTube channel, where she shows off her food-making and handicraft skills. Although there is no link or direct recommendation for specific goods, consumers who watch these videos and admire the lifestyle presented are interested in buying related products. This requires maintaining a balance between lifestyle and consumption, and Ziqi, which manages to make money through advertising and selling goods including homeware, fashion, and food, is one of many emerging consumer trends.
All these ideas have three things in common. First, they involve e-commerce platforms, third-party payments, express delivery, and social media. Countries with similar shopping habits, such as the UK and the US, will likely see these new retail concepts flourish before others.
Second, all these retail concepts respond to emerging consumer needs better met with digital technology. This includes the younger digital generation, growing up with very different needs and desires than their parents.
Third, these changes rely heavily on sophisticated algorithms and data analytics. As a result, consumers can expect to get a more personalized experience, but potentially at too high a price in terms of privacy.